Bali Taxi Mafia – Thieves or Heroes?

by Oliver Boyers

We spent an incredible six weeks working remotely in Bali, and we learned many things. One of them being that the Bali taxi game is a scam controlled by the Bali Taxi Mafia.

bali taxi mafia

The first thing we did when we landed was try to call up an Uber in Bali. Turns out, there are none because ubers are banned in Bali. Instead, they use a ride-hailing service called Grab Taxi. In fact, you have the choice of a few ride-hailing apps – such as Bluebird Taxi, Grab Taxi, Go-Jek and Go-Car. We recommend Grab Taxi (this is not an advert).

Oh, and you also have the option to climb into a metered taxi. In Bali however, there is an ongoing war between the eTaxis and traditional taxis. Unfortunately, it is a rather one-sided war with the aggressors being the traditional taxi drivers, also known as the Bali Taxi Mafia. 

Here’s an (opinionated) debrief of the taxi situation in Bali, and tips on how you can avoid being ripped off. 

Bali Taxi Turf War

The Bali Taxi Mafia drivers do their best to drive out the competition (lol) by erecting numerous signs stating that eTaxis are banned in Bali. Not because that is law in Bali, but because they don’t like the eTaxis moving in on their previously captive market. 

However, their tactics get more nefarious. It has been reported that the traditional taxi drivers intimidate and interfere with the eTaxi’s business through physical action by pulling drivers and passengers out of the (sometimes moving) eTaxis. Don’t take my word for it, watch this video:

 

The Bali Taxi Rip Off

Suspicion of metered taxis are not location-specific to Bali. Here are a few concerns that all riders have when taking a metered taxi from anywhere in the world: 

  • Does this meter even work?
  • Am I getting ripped off?
  • Is this car roadworthy?
  • Is the driver a serial killer?

If there is even a meter in the taxi, you will have to strongly insist that the driver turns it on. Otherwise, they don’t, and if you didn’t have the foresight to negotiate your fare upfront, oh boy, the sky’s the limit when they tell you the price. This is every traditional taxi driver’s wet dream.

I was trying to get a taxi from Ubud Palace to the Bali swing and I remembered seeing all these signs that said eTaxis were banned. 

So, I went over to the taxi rank and asked the price. I was told IDR 300,000 (USD $21) by the man in charge which sounded waaaaaaaay too high. In fact, before asking him the rate, I had checked what a Grab Taxi would charge. It was IDR 82,000 (USD $6), so I knew what the going rate was.

Negotiation attempts

I tried to negotiate the fee down by, offering IDR 100,000 (USD $7), expecting the number to increase during the negotiation. 

After traveling to countries like Morocco, I consider myself a pretty good haggler, but the lowest I could get this guy was IDR 250,000 (USD $18). It’s a no brainer that at this point I decided to walk a block or two down the road and order a Grab. 

The guy from Grab accepted my ride but sent me a message saying that he couldn’t risk picking me up too close to the Bali Taxi Mafia, otherwise there would be trouble. I had to walk much further down the road until the cabbie felt safe. And even then we piled into his car like James Bond in a chase (certainly an overreaction, but fun).

The Rationale Behind the War

There are always two sides to every story, so I will do my best to describe the reasons for the traditional taxi driver’s anger/discontent. Please leave any new info I should be aware of in the comments below and I will include it in this post. 

Traditional taxi drivers are required to register for a contract with the government. This comes at a fee. In addition, Taxi contracts are limited and are therefore a commodity. Taxi drivers also have to pass a number of tests before they can get said contract. 

With the advent of eTaxis, the value of these taxi licenses or contracts reduces to zero if there is no limit to the number of people that can become eTaxi drivers. 

With a suddenly saturated market of taxi drivers, these contracts are now not worth the paper they are printed on. Anything I’ve missed? Comment below. 

Saving Jobs or Killing the Competition?

I’ve often heard from the taxi drivers that you must be from the same village if you want to drive an eTaxi in that area. 

I would have thought that coming from a small island would make the locals consider themselves one and not have so many factions. Are these drivers trying to save a job market? Or are they trying to reform their monopoly on the taxi industry? I’m an uncomplicated man so I’ll break this down into simple bullets. 

What Is Wrong With All Of This?

  • Physical violence and endangering taxi riders.
  • Exorbitant prices – blatantly ripping off taxi riders because you have chased all the reasonably priced taxis out of the area.
  • Those signs about banned eTaxis need to be taken down because they serve as misleading intimidation tactics.

What Needs to Change?

  • Government regulation – if there are too many taxis, the discussion should be with the government. This can’t be done by pulling people out of cars.
  • Refunds must be made for metered taxi licenses by the government after they have accessed the financial impact of eTaxis on the value of these licenses.
  • Better metering of traditional taxis.
  • If traditional taxis want to compete with eTaxis they need to up their game.

Why Everyone Chooses eTaxis

To be honest, eTaxis are far superior to traditional taxis. It’s the way the world is moving and if you don’t adapt, you will die. These are the reasons that everyone wants to use eTaxis:

Taxi fares are fixed by the taxi app company

This ensures that you aren’t being ripped off by the airport taxi drivers that wait outside the airport to prey on tourists who either have no idea of how far they need to travel or what a reasonable rate for the trip is.

Safety

As the drivers are registered with the app company, you can be sure that whoever is picking you up is who they say they are and won’t wear your face to their next family gathering. You can also share your trip with a loved one so that they know where you are too. 

Roadworthy vehicles

eTaxi companies ensure that vehicles meet safety standards.

Accountability

This works both ways. Bad drivers and passengers are rated on a star rating system to ensure a good experience for both parties.

Map to your taxi.

The app shows you where to get the taxi and how long it will take to get there. 

Final Thoughts?

Hit me up in the comments to discuss. I would love to get more of the story from a traditional cab driver. 

In conclusion, I believe in empowering the local economy. By no means do I suggest that traditional taxi drivers should lose their jobs to the power of the app. I do, however, believe that markets evolve and customer demands mimic this evolution. Using intimidation tactics and misleading signage to rip off tourists only leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of those who are trying to feed into the tourism industry.                                                                                                                          

Peace.

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